wears the trousers magazine

thea gilmore: recorded delivery // shawn colvin: live (2009)
June 18, 2009, 2:37 pm
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , , , ,

g_lp_theagilmore_09 c_lp_shawncolvin_09

Thea Gilmore
Recorded Delivery ••••

Shawn Colvin
Shawn Colvin Live •••

In this modern age, when a concert can end up on YouTube just a few hours after its occurrence, you might expect the live album to have been deemed to have outlived its usefulness. In fact, it remains a surprisingly popular form, particularly for those artists who are less comfortable in the studio, whose music only really lives and breathes in front of an audience, and whose fans desire some kind of official, decently mastered record of their concert work. While it’s unlikely that these two releases – Thea Gilmore’s first live document, Shawn Colvin’s second – will make much of a dent beyond the artists’ usual constituency of admirers, each is a pretty satisfying listen. Despite the differences in their ages and approaches, Gilmore and Colvin’s work bears comparison. Both are sophisticated, literate songwriters working in the roots-rock idiom, whose music combines intelligent observation, introspection and social comment. 

Taken from performances spanning various UK tours between 2006 and 2008, Recorded Delivery finds Gilmore playing her effective live trick of starting her set sedately and then gaining in pace, energy and volume as she progresses. The first, acoustic half of the record offers comfort, tenderness and melancholy; the second rouses and excites, with the accretion of electric guitar, more dynamic band interplay and Gilmore adding some appealing snap and snarl to her vocals. The transition between the two modes is a little jarring, but at least gives the listener a good sense of Gilmore’s full range. The two great centrepiece ballads from last year’s excellent Liejacker album – ‘Old Soul’ and ‘The Lower Road’ – get beautiful, intimate readings, perhaps even improving upon the studio versions, while tender new song ‘You & Frank Sinatra’ slots in well.

An urgent, percussive version of Chico Neblett’s Civil Rights Movement anthem ‘If You Miss Me At The Back Of The Bus’ varies the pace of the acoustic half of the set, and Gilmore’s rich, expressive vocals are commanding throughout. Gilmore’s rockier songs can veer into competent but somewhat plodding MOR territory when confined to the studio walls. Live, however, she and the band loosen them up a tad, and ‘My Own Private Riot’ and ‘Rags & Bones’ in particular get nicely dramatic treatments. Gilmore finally returns to folk roots for a singalong ‘When I Get Back To Shore’ and there’s also a welcome appearance of Rules For Jokers‘ ‘Inverigo’. With its reference to “the moon and the tide/and all the songs not written yet” it makes for an elegant and entirely appropriate closer.

Recorded over a three night residency at Yoshi’s in San Francisco last summer, Shawn Colvin Live finds Colvin performing without a band, keeping the spotlight on her spry vocals and excellent guitar playing. Like Gilmore’s, the set covers a solid range of Colvin’s output, with a few covers thrown into the mix. The superb ‘Sunny Came Home’ still sounds fresh and remains her best song by some margin, though other tracks including ‘A Matter Of Minutes’, ‘Twilight’ and ‘Ricochet In Time’ are also touching and involving. However, there are negative as well as positive aspects to Colvin’s approach. In stripping back the songs to just vocal and guitar, she gets to the heart of each track in a way that her fans will doubtless appreciate; in the process, though, she reveals the lack of variety to her compositions, which emerge here, almost uniformly, as intelligent, tasteful, understated, reflective and, it must be said, a little bit dull. The tone across the 15 selections is rather monotonous, with too much emphasis on what she wryly refers to at one moment as “all that sensitive stuff.”

When there’s an opportunity for a more creative or quirky approach – such as on the covers of Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’ and Talking Heads’ ‘This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)’, both offered here as encores – Colvin fails to take it, delivering the songs in a low-key manner that neither breaks the mood, nor greatly excites. The earnest quality of her work is no doubt part of its appeal, but other approaches would be welcomed; you may find yourself wishing that the satirical ethos of the TV shows she’s cameo’d in (‘Larry Saunders’, ‘The Simpsons’) would find its way into her songwriting. But while Live is, in sum, a little less compelling than Recorded Delivery, both records are respectable additions to the artists’ back catalogues.

Alex Ramon
UK release date: 25/05/09 (TG), 22/06/09 (SC); www.myspace.com/theagilmore, www.myspace.com/shawncolvin


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[…] 13/4] 39 Spinnerette – Spinnerette [Charlotte Richardson Andrews 19/6] 40 Thea Gilmore – Recorded Delivery / Shawn Colvin – Live [Alex Ramon […]

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